Journey to the Centre of the Colon-a gastric Odyssey [with apologies to Jules Verne]

I made a promise when I began this blog-the ramblings of an ageing female-that health issues would not be at the forefront of every post. Every now and then, however there is bound to be some blot on the fitness horizon and this particular blot appears to have eclipsed normal life like a blackout curtain.

In an ironic curve the disease I have eventually been diagnosed with is not at all age related, more an unfortunate plague of a far younger demographic. What is it? It is ulcerative colitis; nasty and incurable, yes, life threatening-well no, supposedly not, except that the odds of more sinister complaints are increased.

Whilst Fiction Month was running its [highly satisfactory] course the writer was undergoing many weeks of initial terror followed by exhaustion and desperation as the slow wheels of our UK health service ground along; well-meaning and efficient but over-stretched and ponderous.

During the past two months life has shrunk back within the walls of the house, where access to bathroom facilities provides a secure reassurance-for now, the only factor that matters. This disease, as all inflammatory bowel diseases [Crohn’s is another] is neither romantic nor noble, reducing us, the sufferers to the most basic of needs- a toilet and means of cleaning up. A walk, shopping trip or evening out becomes an activity to be undertaken with trepidation and vast amounts of planning, but mostly not at all.

With Christmas rearing up I fall eagerly on the reassuring presence of the internet while fantasising about strolling around Christmas markets, choosing ‘real’ items, stopping for coffees, enjoying the ambience of the ‘Alpine Bar’ that popped up in our local town [according to Facebook].

Between sojourns enclosed within the shiny, tiled cell of the lavatory I have enjoyed the luxury of unlimited research time, during which I have discovered the unfathomable ocean of misery that is undergone by those who suffer chronic illness. I am castigated by the small but dedicated carers that are my immediate family for doing this, but to me, ignorance can never be a pleasure. The more I know, the better I am prepared.

The GP [local doctor] who was my first port of call has kindly followed up with inquiries regarding diagnosis and progress but clearly is at a loss to know how to provide cheer amid the gloom. ‘You are on a journey’, she tells me and I refrain from advising her that my travel plans have reduced down to the few steps it takes to achieve the safety of the loo. She does mean well.

In all I have not failed to recognise that I am extremely lucky to have Husband-supporting without false cheer, and Offspring-resilient in her newly acquired nurse’s knowledge. Messages, however brief, from some of those who I’ve plucked up the courage to inform are more appreciated than they can know.

So far treatment cannot be described as an unmitigated success, although I recognise it is still ‘early days’ and that there are further options along what the doctor calls the ‘journey’.

I am learning to appreciate home comforts and I am catching up [via the wonder that is ‘Blinkbox’] on TV and film I missed when I was engaged in more worthy activities.

One tragic casualty has been my writing, the pursuit of which has escaped me. This may change-who knows? What a blessing we none of us know what lies ahead!

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The B&B Rant

A lot of people swear by B&Bs for their holiday accommodation needs. B&Bs, guest houses, chambers d’hotes-whatever you like to call them-differ from hotels in a variety of ways, but personally I would prefer to eat my own hair than stay in them.
The reasons fans of B&Bs give for loving them are varied, but rely on the principle of the ‘personal touch’. They say things like ‘such nice people’, ‘just like family’, ‘home from home’ and it is just this that provokes me to shudder at the idea of staying in one. This judgement does not come from hearsay, reportage or conversation but from real, empirical research. In other words, my experiences of said places have been entirely negative.
I don’t want to stay in someone’s home. I can manage [just about] to stay with close family members for up to two nights, perhaps but even then I find it hard to manage.
I don’t want to sleep in an overheated, tiny, stuffy room crammed with family photos, ornaments, souvenirs of Brixham, lace doilies and knick-knacks. I don’t want to be suffocated by an enormous cloud of puffy duvet.
We are not the earliest of risers. I want a lovely, exclusive en suite [for night time needs, if nothing else] and at least two cups of tea before I face anyone [Husband excluded of course]. I may want to slob about pre-ablution watching News 24.
When I do surface, I don’t really want to eat anything until at least late morning, and then I am not able to cope with ‘full English’ [in other words: cereal followed by bacon, sausage, egg, baked beans, fried bread, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding, toast and marmalade].
Most of all though I don’t wish to sit at the breakfast table and make small talk with the ‘friendly, welcoming’ host or hostess. I don’t want their life story, learn what their grandchildren are studying at university or where they have been for their holidays.
If all this makes me sound humbug I don’t care. Give me a plain, simple, anonymous hotel. It doesn’t need a stupendous view, an infinity pool, a Michelin starred restaurant or four posters [although they can be fun…]. I want to be able to use a breakfast buffet-preferably up until eleven or so. I want tea and coffee making facilities [biscuits are always a bonus]. I want a TV I can watch from the bed. I want a firm, clean, comfortable bed with options for temperature control [ie covers to put on or remove]. I want a clean, efficient en suite with a shower that doesn’t need a degree in engineering to operate. Ideally, some beautiful toiletries are provided. I’d really like a late night bar where I can grab a last glass of wine before I turn in. I’d like INTERNET [included in the price!]. I’d like pleasant, non intrusive service.
I don’t mind that it is part of a ‘chain’ and every room is the same. It needn’t have an Alpine or Namibian Desert view.
Otherwise-give me a comfortable, efficient camper van, which does have ensuite, tea & coffee making, glass of wine and TV-and I don’t need to talk to anyone [Husband excluded]…

The Measure. How tourist friendly is your country?

                It must be gratifying to be of a nationalistic disposition. It must be delightful to have your heart swell with pride at the sound of your national anthem or well up when your national team wins a championship. As far as anthems go, the UK would not win any prizes. It is the dreariest dirge ever to be suffered at a sports event. For me, the Welsh would have to take the prize for the most rousing, melodic and enjoyable national anthem, with ‘Land of my Fathers’. Whenever it is performed the crowd, spectators etc join in with stirring gusto like a wall of harmonic sound-most uplifting. But-I am not Welsh, and neither do I possess feelings of nationalism. Of course I am always pleased when England wins something, but I don’t feel moved to hoist a flag over the house roof or paint a red cross on to my face. But the UK has much to offer overseas visitors, such as sites of historical interest, traditional seaside and coastal walks.

                Countries vary hugely in terms of ease of travel and facilities offered to visitors. Take tourist information offices, services that can be a boon for sightseers and essential for map-mad folks like Husband; the bureau may be closed, or it may be manned by a bored, disinterested, diffident moron, or it may be an Aladdin’s Den of brochures, local goods and displays and be staffed by an enthusiastic, helpful local expert who is prepared to engage in conversation, explain how, where and why and provide all the relevant paperwork, like the tourist office we recently visited in Aberaeron, mid Wales.

                One basic yardstick you could use to measure the visitor-friendliness of a place is by its provision of public lavatory facilities. I would rank Wales’ profusion of these services alongside its national anthem. They are everywhere. Aberporth, a tiny cove whose tourist site boasts the post office among its must-sees has two toilet blocks within 200 yards of each other!

                Among other countries, New Zealand caters very well in respect of this basic requisite, as does France, which has improved over the years in that when I first set foot on Gallic shores the only places provided for peeing were men’s urinals on the street-small screens shielding the mid portion, the head and feet visible above and below. Who knows what women were supposed to do if nature called? Perhaps females were deemed to be unearthly beings who were not possessed of such an indecorous need.

Spain falls far back in the rankings. In Madrid last year I fell back on the only option of a workmen’s portacabin when desperation overwhelmed me, relying on Husband to lean heavily on the door whilst I negotiated the hole in the floor that southern Europeans often favour over the comforts of a seat. Other than this the choice would be to visit a museum or a gallery or to purchase a drink in a café, with the inevitable result in needing to pee ever more frequently.

Munich is similarly deprived of public loos, with the exception of the park, where we had to insert lots of euros into a slot but were serenaded by piped piano music once we’d breached the portals-a kind of tinkle while you sprinkle.

Manhattan may have improved, although when we visited about sixteen years ago there was a woeful lack of street bathrooms, necessitating, when desperate, a late night, post beer pee into a darkened doorway, [shielded by Husband], for which I apologise in retrospect. But what is a girl to do? [Answers on a postcard please].

Soup or Poisson?

                So, then- the French. Vive la difference!-as they say. It is traditional, and commonplace for us Brits to display animosity, dislike and general displeasure to them…as it is for them to be contemptuous, dismissive and generally out of sorts with us. This is how it has been since time immemorial; since tiny, posturing Bonaparte and noble, one-eyed Nelson, since Agincourt, since the German Nazis were allowed in to run riot all over the place.

                We think them arrogant, uncouth and sexually immoral. They think us cold, frigid and unappealing. They think their cuisine superior. We think they are up themselves. Does all this hold true? Or are these attitudes as outdated as a beret and a string of onions? Myself I think they are mostly far of the mark but that there are vestiges of truth in some of them.

                Take the arrogance thing. Those who visit France regularly are familiar with the fact that one should try to speak the language when communicating verbally, rather than shouting ever more loudly in one’s own lingo. This is perfectly reasonable, however there has been an odd occasion when my own [imperfect but adequate] French has been rejected. A couple of years ago we entered a bar for the purposes of a post-meal glass of wine. If there is one phrase I have become accomplished at it is ‘verre de vin rouge’. The young man taking the order made a clear point of refusing to understand, whilst sporting a practised sneer. On the other hand we are almost always welcomed, greeted, helped and smiled at.

                France is vast. The country is littered with plots of land for sale and crumbling, vacant dwellings calling out for some TLC. ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ could have a bonanza in France, but no one here cares, because there is no shortage of land. Being such a big country has also caused it to become very travel-friendly. The French, amongst all Europeans, are the greatest lovers of ‘camping cars’. They are everywhere. Towns and villages are happy to provide free ‘aires’ where you can park up for the night-all provided by local businesses, often with toilets, water and waste facilities-sometimes with electricity. There are hundreds of small, cheap, clean, comfortable, ‘chain’ type hotels-not luxurious, but fine for overnight stops.

                And they are rightly proud of their villages, too. They are neat and tidy, litter-free, and planted with wonderful floral displays. Despite this the streets and pavements are often encrusted with dog excrement, somewhat tarnishing the overall effect. They are completely besotted by their dogs, and nowhere else have I seen so many pooches being variously carried-in bags, bike baskets, cycle trailers or baby prams, as if they’ve somehow lost the use of their paws.

                Women’s sensibilities are not expected to be offended by the sight of men’s backs as they urinate, so lavatorial facilities tend to be shared.

                The boulangerie is heaven in a shop-and best avoided for anyone wishing to retain a waistline.

                Wine is cheap as water.

                There is much more…but the sun is shining, it actually feels warm, and I sense a bike ride coming on. A bientot!